nationality ban

Locked out: the nationality and border

This particular time when people with proper visa were reported to be stuck in the airport due to the travel ban, I wanted to write about the story that I find equally silly.

It was one summer day when one of my colleagues found out that one laptop in the office was stolen. Investigation took place and it turned out the responsible staff is suspected to have taken not only the laptop, but a lot of other desktops previously. He and his culprit was later fired. The meeting was held to discuss what to do with theft in the office. The conclusion was to lock the door at 5 every day and only Koreans have the security codes. The expat Koreans were not all managerial level but there were also interns, which meant the code holders are not determined by the hierarchy. Interns who are almost at the bottom of the hierarchy were allowed the codes as well. To my privilege being the sector manager and Korean, I got to use the codes to unlock the door literally anytime to charge my laptop or just hang around. It seems, in my bare eyes, that the privilege was given based on the nationality not the hierarchy or reliability. It also means that locking out all staff with Malawian nationality was considered to be the safety measure. How outrageous.

There are 2 offices that we work in. One in the residential compound and another in community centre. The one in residential compound uses the digital code lock and the one in community centre uses key lock which allows access to all staff. This office in the community centre is used by local staff and one expat, me. We do put our office belongings there after work including laptops and no one reported missing anything there. Some might interpret this as “that’s because not all locals are thieves,” but others might interpret it as “theft didn’t occur because there was one expat supervising every locals.” Well. We all live in a different world.

The lock problem rose over the surface when all Korean staff started commuting from another city as a temporary measure for safety when multiple robberies were reported near the compound. The place was 1.5 hour away and sometimes we couldn’t get to work by 8 in the morning at which we are supposed to start working. It meant Malawian staff who work in the office with digital code lock will be locked out until we arrive as they couldn’t open the door. A few days or weeks earlier the problem rose, I found a backup key for the digital lock while I was going through all junks in the cabinet, and I thought it would be great if it went to one of Malawian staff who stands relatively high in the hierarchy. But it was rejected by the logic that if another theft happens, all blames will be going to him because he’s the only one who has the key. Apparently, we Koreans were not considered as a potential thieves. How more outrageous. As a result, the key went to one of the expats. Although the key was time to time used by local staff but it was only for temporary.

It would’ve made sense if the codes had to be shared among those in higher positions or otherwise by security team. It’s more logical and more consistent. But no, it was the nationality that kept people from the entry. This policy reflected how the local staff was viewed by some people; they were automatically potential threats and they don’t necessarily need the fair treatment. Sounds familiar?

At the end, I believe I did something right. I wish I could look back later and say “it was crazy but it all went well.” Sadly, though, the quiet discrimination won’t go away soon enough. At least, I am happy that discrimination based on nationality – including other things – got attention worldwide thanks to Donald Trump. But again, I am still a little concerned, what if the fight is just all about the one evil instead of the value we believe is right?

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An anthropology novice with passion for small things. A development worker in a world of imponderabilia.

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